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    Mark Arbour
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Gap Year - 9. Chapter 9

January 23, 2004


Sydney Football Stadium


Sydney, Australia






Connie was so worried we wouldn’t make it to the stadium on time we ended up getting there early. “I’ll show you around,” Connie said, as we breezed past the security people guarding this venue.

“Just a minute,” I said, and went over to speak to the guard. I was wearing a dark grayish-green suit, and the fact that I was dressed really well probably helped convince him not to be a dick. Once he agreed to do what I asked, I rejoined Connie. “Alright, show me this rugby palace.”

He led me around the place, pointing out things about the structure and giving me a bit of an education about rugby, then as 2:00 rolled around, he led me to a conference room. It was a strange format, where you entered and there was like a vestibule, then you went through another door and into a nice room with a board table. Finchy, Hodges, and Strider were there, and so was another guy who was older and partly bald. I assumed he was Coach Cartwright. “I would like to know exactly what happened last night!” he demanded, before we could even sit down.

I walked straight up to him and held out my hand. “Will Schluter,” I said politely but firmly. He held my hand, gripping way too hard as if to try and prove something.

“Who the fuck do you think you are, paying people to beat the shit out of my players?” he demanded loudly, as soon as he released my hand. That had the benefit of pissing me off, which made me determined to take no shit from this guy.

“I’m trying to figure out why you think you have the right to summon me here in the first place,” I said, getting in his face. “Do not yell at me, and do not even think you’re going to bully me.”

“Well aren’t you jumped up,” he said with a sneer.

“Just like I told you coach,” Strider said. I looked at him and grinned at him, taunting him because he had a black eye and his nose was swollen.

“You give me attitude and I’m walking out that fucking door,” I said to both of them.

“Bribing people to assault other people is a crime in this country, or perhaps you didn’t know that,” Cartwright said in a smarmy way.

“Well then I should probably go hire the best fucking lawyer or barrister or whatever you call them here and see what he thinks,” I said defiantly. Like an idiot, he hadn’t expected me to respond with a legal threat, even though he threatened me with one. What a tool.

“Have a seat,” he said. I walked over to the side table and got a bottle of water first, just to demonstrate that I wasn’t going to follow his orders, then sat down. Connie didn’t say anything, but he looked like he was about to shit a brick. That made sense, since he was vulnerable to the whims of these people while I was not. “So what happened?” Cartwright asked Strider.

“These three went to the toilet and left me at the bar with Will,” Strider said. “I shouted a round of beers for all of us, then after he took a few drinks of his, he fucking kicked me in the nuts.” I shook my head at his lies.

“Why would he do that?” the coach asked.

“Guess he didn’t like my jokes,” Strider said. “I mean, I wasn’t rude, I was just palling around with the bloke, but you can see how stuck up and into himself he is. Guess he’s super-sensitive.” I couldn’t help rolling my eyes.

“Go on,” the coach said.

“He kicked me in the stomach, and when I got up to lay into him, he offered the blokes at the bar a thousand bucks to beat the shit out of me and then piss on me when they were done,” Strider said, acting all injured.

“And did they?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he snapped.

“Good,” I said, and gave him a smarmy look.

“I worked them over, but they overpowered me,” he said to the coach plaintively. “It was four to one, and my mates weren’t there to back me up.” With that comment, he glared at his teammates.

“Did any of you know about this?” the coach asked the others.

“No,” Connie said, answering for all of them. “Will just told us that Strider left.”

“See, he conspired to keep them from helping me,” Strider said.

“So you just throw money at people to get them to do what you want, and you think you can get away with it?” Cartwright asked me with outrage.

“Pretty much, yeah,” I said, being arrogant just to piss him off. “What are you going to do about it, huh?”

“Maybe we’ll work you over in this fucking room,” he responded, all pissed off. It was hilarious, because his nose was flared and you could almost see steam coming from out of his ears he was so mad.

“You as much as lay one finger on me, and you’re dead fucking meat,” I said. There was a noise at the entrance and two gentlemen came in. One was younger and looked like he’d been a rugby player, while the other was older and dressed in a dapper business suit. Everyone got up when they walked in, so I followed suit. The sly bastards had probably been listening in the vestibule.

“So you’re Will Schluter,” the older guy said, as he walked over and shook my hand. “Nick Politis.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said, smiling broadly. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“I’ve known your grandfather for a long time,” he said. “He’s a pretty impressive man.”

“He said the same thing about you,” I told him.

“I haven’t seen him in years, but we’ve put together some business deals recently.” Politis’s demeanor toward me completely freaked out the others in the room. It was hilarious to see the deflated expressions on Strider’s and Cartwright’s faces. “You seem so much like him, but I can’t see him handling this situation like you did.”

I thought about that. “You’re probably right. He’d be less direct about it. He’d have ruined Strider’s life and career, and Strider wouldn’t have even known what was happening,” I mused. “I’m more direct.”

“You certainly are,” he said, chuckling. “This is the head coach of the Roosters, Ricky Stuart,” he said, introducing me. We shook hands and muttered greetings. “Well I’ve heard what Strider had to say about last night, let’s hear your version.”

“Sure,” I said. I recounted my evening and how when Strider had come into the restaurant Kelly had insisted on leaving because he was a troublemaker.

“Fucking twat,” Strider said, then shut up when he got a ferocious look from Politis.

“She’s a classy lady,” I responded firmly, just to make him look even more like shit. I then recounted the events at the bar, and how I’d bought the round of drinks and how Strider had sucker-punched me. “While I was struggling to get my breath back, he threatened me, telling me to keep my fucking mouth shut, or the next punch would mess up my pretty face.”

“What a load of crap,” Strider said. “You’re not going to believe this seppo?”

“Here’s my bar receipt,” I said, handing it to Politis. “Where’s yours?” I asked Strider.

“I paid cash,” he said.

“Well it seems to me that you each have a different read on things, and it would probably be best for everyone just to forget this happened,” Politis said, being diplomatic.

“Excuse me for disagreeing with you, but if one of your players is out and about and punching people who annoy him, that’s a problem for your team,” I said respectfully. “Besides, there’s a way to prove that what I’m telling you is true.”

“What, did you tape it?” Strider demanded. As if it were perfectly choreographed, there was a knock on the door followed by the entry of the security guard and Kevin the bartender.

“No, I asked the bartender to come down here and tell everyone what he saw,” I said. “This is Kevin.”

“Hey mate,” Finchy said pleasantly, and stood up to welcome Kevin, prompting the rest of us to do the same.

“What did you do, bribe him too?” Strider demanded.

“The only thing I did was hire a car to bring him here,” I said.

“That’s the truth, mate,” Kevin said. “Nice limo.”

“Kevin, thanks for coming down here,” Stuart said, taking the lead. “Tell us what happened last night.”

“Strider came in and bullied his way up to the bar, shoving aside the blokes who beat him up later,” Kevin said. “They already hate him and were ready to start a fight as soon as he walked in but I calmed them down.”

“Why do they hate him?” Stuart asked.

“He always causes trouble, usually a fight, when he comes in. Last time he was talking up their sheilas, and they got into it over that,” Kevin said.

“How did you calm them down?” I asked.

“Shouted them a round,” he replied, then glared at Strider. “Came out of me own pocket.”

“We’ll cover that,” Politis said smoothly, to move things along.

“Thank you, sir,” Kevin said, overawed by actually being addressed by the Godfather. “Finchy, Hodges, and Connie went to the toilet.” He gave them a knowing look, which got frowns from the coaches. “Soon as they’re gone, Strider puts his arm around Will, acting all friendly, getting him to let his guard down, then punches him hard in the stomach. He’s threatening Will while Will is just trying to catch his breath. That was a hard punch.”

“Then what happened?” Stuart asked.

Kevin chuckled. “Will finally got his breath back and kneed Strider hard in the nuts. Strider collapsed on the floor and Will kicked him in the stomach, then ground the heel of his shoe in the side of Strider’s face. The blokes in the bar was laughing their asses off.”

“I see,” Stuart said, and seemed incredibly annoyed.

“Cheap shot, kicking someone in their nads,” Hodges said.

“And sucker-punching someone isn’t?” I demanded, shutting him up.

“So then Strider starts to get up and acts like he’s going to go after Will, so Will offers the blokes at the bar ten avocados to beat the shit out of Strider and piss all over him,” Kevin said. He chuckled again. “Saw him in the alley after that. Sure didn’t smell very good.” It was all I could do to maintain a straight face and not laugh at that.

“Fuck you,” Strider said.

I stared hard at Strider. “You’re a fucking pussy. You go around starting shit, hitting me with a sucker punch, then when you get your ass kicked, you go and tattle to this idiot,” I said, gesturing at Cartwright. “And now all you’ve done is show everyone you’re a whiney-ass little bitch.”

Before anyone could say anything, Politis stood up. “I think you summed that up pretty well, Will.” He turned his attention to Stuart. “Looks like you have some work to do with your players on how they behave in public. And it looks like you need to educate your coaches on that too.”

“Yes, sir,” Stuart said, with real fire in his eyes.

Cartwright swallowed hard. “Well then I guess we’re done here.”

“Not quite,” I intervened. “Kevin came down here on his off time, even though he probably has to work tonight.” Kevin nodded ruefully. “I think it would be the right thing to do to show him around the stadium, get him a jersey or something, and comp him some tickets, don’t you?”

“Right again,” Politis said. “Kevin, do you have time to let me show you around our humble abode?”

“Of course, sir,” Kevin asked, awed.

“We’ll get you a signed jersey too. Whose do you want?”

“Well, no offense to the rest of you, but I’ve always been a Finchy fan,” Kevin said shyly.

“Good on ya, mate,” Finchy said, and high-fived Kevin. Politis escorted Kevin and me out, and Politis paused to talk to me.

“You bring a bazooka to a shooting contest,” he said to me in a humorous way.

I started laughing. “I learned that from my father. I’m sorry if I was too rough.”

“No such thing as too rough in rugby,” he said, and put his arm around me in a fatherly way. “I’ll see again when your grandfather’s in town. I’m taking you all out to dinner.”

“Now that’s something to look forward to,” I said, smiling at him. He led Kevin off, while I wandered around on my own, waiting for Connie to finish the meeting. I spent some time on introspection, remembering how I’d gotten into a big fight with Aunt Claire and Grandmaman before 9-11, and how they’d reminded me that not everyone responds well to an aggressive frontal assault. They were right, but I decided that in this situation, in the rough and tumble world of professional rugby, it was the right choice. Only Politis was smooth enough to function in Aunt Claire’s world, and even then, he’d look rough around the edges.

I waited in this arcade with closed up food stands, a place that must be super-crowded during games, contrasting how I was the only one here right now. That all changed when I saw Connie, Finchy, and Hodges strolling toward me. Finchy was the first one to me, and put his arm around me as we walked together. “Good on ya, mate,” he said, then let go of me and patted my back. Hodges just nodded at me, which made sense since he’d pretty much been on Strider’s side in this whole deal.

Connie and I paused to let them get ahead of us, then we started walking to the car. “Dude, that scared the shit out of me,” he said, sighing with relief.

“Why?” I asked curiously.

“Because you’re my mate, and if that would have gone the wrong way, I’d have gotten blamed, not only by the coaches but by the team too,” he said. He wasn’t angry, he was just stressed. “That could fuck up my career.”

“It didn’t go the wrong way,” I said, smiling at him.

“But it could have,” he insisted, as we got in the car.

“Nope,” I said confidently. He started driving then looked at me, demanding that I explain my monosyllabic answer. “As soon as I found out that Stef knew the Godfather, I knew this would work out alright. And even if he didn’t, it still would have been okay.”

“How can you say that?” he demanded. He’d said it so emotionally that he swerved the car, freaking me out.

“Just fucking drive, alright?” I almost shouted.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, and focused on the road.

“Let’s get food,” I suggested, since I was hungry. We were downtown, so there were bound to be good restaurants around here. “Something nice, since we’re all dressed up.”

“Tetsuya’s,” he said. I didn’t know whether that was motivated by how good it was, or how close it was, because it only took us five minutes to get there. I should have known by the name that it was a Japanese restaurant, but if that didn’t clue me in, the exterior décor certainly did. It was a really nice place, with floor to ceiling windows in the main room that looked out onto a beautiful garden.

“I’m going to hit the bathroom,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll get a table,” he said. I peed and washed my hands, then walked out to find Connie waiting for me. “We don’t have reservations, and they’re full-up.”

“Let’s see if I can change their mind,” I said.

“Good luck,” he grumbled. I took out an A$100 bill and folded it up so it was about a third of the size of an American dollar, then strode up to the host, who was an Asian guy, probably in his late 30’s or early 40’s. If his flamboyance was an indicator, this dude was really gay.

“Good afternoon,” he said pleasantly.

“Good afternoon,” I responded, smiling to throw out some serious charm. “As you can probably tell from my accent, I’m visiting from America.”

“That pretty much gives you away,” he said, smiling back at me.

“I just finished a meeting with Nick Politis, and he said that the one place I should eat while I’m in Australia is Tetsuya’s. I know I don’t have a reservation, but I’m not here for long, so I was hoping you could find a way to squeeze us in,” I said. I put the folded-up avocado on the top of his maître-d stand with my finger still on it.

“Let me re-check my reservation list,” he said. “By the way, your suit is a really unique color.”

“It is,” I agreed. “I was at the New York Fashion Show this fall and was chatting with Karl Lagerfeld when this suit was modeled. He told me it would match my eyes.”

“Karl Lagerfeld?” he asked, amazed.

“He is such a fun guy to hang around with,” I said. He really was, because all I had to do was flirt with him to have him eating out of my hand, and he was so flamboyantly gay it just supercharged his personality. “So after that, he got my measurements from my brother and had this made and shipped out to California, where I live.” I snickered internally at how that had completely annoyed JJ, especially since Lagerfeld barely noticed him at all. I almost laughed out loud when I thought that the two of them were much too bitchy to ever have any kind of positive relationship.

“Well done,” he said. “After reviewing our list, it looks like we just got a cancellation. Follow me.”

“Thanks,” I said, leaving the money on his counter. He sat us at a table in a corner of glass walls, overlooking the gardens.

“Best table in the house,” Connie said as soon as he’d left us.

“Pretty amazing,” I said. Our waiter came up and we ordered drinks.

“When you do shit like that, it’s like I don’t even know you,” Connie said.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“The way you handled Cecil, and Politis, and the maître d,” he said. “When you do that, you’re nothing like the surfer dude I met at a gay club.”

I shrugged, which made me think of the French, and of Paris. “I come from a very rich, very powerful, and very famous family. It has a lot of perks, but it can also be a royal pain in the ass.”

“I’m not seeing the downside,” he said, making me chuckle.

“Well, it makes me a target, in that if I do something stupid, I could get bad press, and it makes me a target if someone wanted to kidnap me or some shit like that. That means I have to be mildly paranoid about security,” I explained. “But other than that, I’m pretty lucky.”

“You seem so much older than you really are,” he said, and seemed really confused.

“I’ve always been mature for my age, at least physically,” I said, telling him something he already knew. “I think that being around my family, especially my grandfathers, has made me a lot smarter. I’ve also gotten to do a ton of different things and go to all kinds of different places, and that helps make me seem like I’m more worldly.”

“And when you talk, you use big words that no one else around our age uses,” he said, as if amazed by that.

I laughed. “You already know about Stefan, but when you meet my other grandfather, Dr. JP Crampton, you’ll understand why I’m like that. He’s fucking brilliant and spent most of his career as a professor at Stanford University. I grew up around him and we’re tight, so I guess he’s rubbed off on me.”

“I’m worried that when they come visit, I won’t fit into your world,” he said nervously, which was adorable.

“Dude, they’re gay and you’re smoking hot. No way they’re not going to love you,” I said.

He chuckled. “Right.” He clearly was insecure about them.

“Look,” I said firmly, to get his attention. “If we went to one of your family events, do you think I’d fit in?”

He pondered that for a minute. “Yeah, I think you would.”

I frowned at having my argument foiled, even though it was a really flattering statement. “And if you started doing some tribal dance, don’t you think I’d seem a bit out of place,” I said, teasing him.

He laughed. “If there was a tribal dance, you’d pick up on it faster than I would.”

“We come from different worlds, but you’re almost a famous rugby player, so your world is starting to merge with mine,” I said, sounding like I was stoned.

“Almost famous?” he challenged, cracking me up. Our drinks arrived and we paused to listen to specials and order. Connie got some trout thing that was supposedly their specialty, while I got some French chicken dish. “You’d be more likely to end up at a tribal dance with Hodges.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Aboriginal Dreamtime. He’s into that,” he said. I looked at him confused by that, so he explained. “It’s where you dance for hours until you get high.”

“You can get high from dancing?” I asked.

“That’s what the shamans say, and Hodges thinks so,” Connie said.

“Maybe they just got kitkatted and didn’t realize it,” I joked, cracking him up. “I don’t think Hodges likes me enough to go dancing with me.”

“Well, he’s not going to dance with another bloke, so there’s that,” he said, trying to brush it off. I didn’t say anything, so he realized this was bugging me enough to answer my question. “He’s the only one on the team who likes Strider, and he’s also big into sticking up for his teammates, so you’re probably not his favorite person.”

“Makes sense,” I said.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said soothingly.

“I’m not worried, I was just curious,” I said, because I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over not being Hodges’ best friend.

“I still don’t get why you went to all that trouble today. I mean, you really didn’t even have to go down there, and you sure as fuck didn’t have to get Kevin the bartender to show up,” he said. “Were you that pissed at Strider that you were determined to fuck him over.”

“It wasn’t that,” I said, even as I pondered my own motives, diving deep into my psyche. He misinterpreted my pause as annoyance with his probing question.

“We don’t have to talk about this shit if you don’t want to,” he said hastily.

“I was just thinking,” I said. They brought out food and that gave me a bit more time to think things through. “My great grandfather left a diary that covered his high school years in the 1940s. His cousin was a real asshole. They both came from really wealthy families, and his cousin used to fuck around with people because he could get away with it.”

“Your family was rich even back then,” he mused.

“They were,” I agreed. “So one day my great-grandfather and his cousin got into a big fight, and ended up in a meeting with my great-great grandfather, who to all accounts was a pretty fearsome dude. He asked my great-grandfather why he fought with his cousin, and my great-grandfather told him it was because it would mean his cousin would actually have some consequences, as opposed to it being a normal guy who would get crushed by his cousin’s power and money.”

“So you’re saying you did it because you’re the only one who could call Strider out on being an asshole?” he asked, implying that wasn’t true.

“Well it looked pretty obvious to me that he’s done this shit before and no one’s been able to knock him off his perch,” I said. “You all know he’s an asshole. How come you didn’t do anything?”

“It’s complicated,” he mumbled.

“It wasn’t for me. I feel guilty sometimes about the awesome life I have, and I figure that sometimes I have to use my powers for good,” I said with a smile.

“I’m guessing that Strider’s reputation took a hit, and the coaches won’t put up with his bullshit like they used to,” he mused. “The whole team will appreciate that.”

“See, this time it worked,” I joked, hoping we could move on from this conversation.

“How’d you know to have Kevin show up?” he asked. “I mean, you called him, had a limo pick him up, and just sealed the case. You should be a fucking lawyer.”

“Dude, do not insult me,” I said, referring to lawyers, which got a laugh from him.

“Fair enough,” he said.

“Like I told you, my father is this really intense guy. What I did at the bar and at that meeting is probably pretty similar to what he would have done.”

“So you learned from him?” he asked.

“I did,” I agreed, then laughed. “He and I have had some massive fights in the past, and one thing I learned from them was to have a plan and to be prepared, and that means thinking through all the shit that they can throw at you. I pretty much knew it would be my word against Strider’s, and you saw how that would have ended. Politis wanted to brush the whole thing under the table,” I said.

“That’s what they usually do,” Connie agreed.

“But Kevin had seen everything and had been really nice to me, and even wrote his phone number on my receipt,” I said, raising an eyebrow. It was hilarious to see him get a little jealous at that. “In the end, he probably had a pretty fucking memorable day.”

“You left a lot to chance,” he said.

“Not really,” I disagreed. “That’s the thing about planning this shit out. I tried to leave myself ways to maneuver if something didn’t go according to plan. So if everyone had been a dick to Kevin, I would have stepped in and given him some cash, and Finchy still would have signed a jersey for him.”

“Can’t believe he picked Finchy instead of me,” he said, acting offended.

“Guess you better up your game,” I teased.

Copyright © 2020 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
If you enjoyed what you have read, please leave a reaction and/or comment for the author!

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Chapter Comments

As much as Will's my favorite character, I do think he might have gone a bit over the top with how he dealt with Strider. Glad it worked out ok in the end. At least, it did this time. I've got a feeling things might not always go as smoothly over the course of his gap year. Btw, did we (and Will) know Stef was headed to Australia? 

Thanks, hon! This was a delightful start to the weekend. 

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Yes Will has a privileged life and knows how to work it, just as he explained it to Connie. His redeeming factors include he doesn't like bullies and doesn't suffer fools gladly. 

More please!

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Great Chapter Mark! I have not always liked how Will handled things. But I think he is maturing a little faster now. And think he handled this ordeal very well. Having spoken to Stef gave him a lot of insight also. He is showing a little of Tonto, JP, Stef, and Dan coming out in him more every day. He is probably going to become a very shrewd businessman that his wealth may drawf his Dad's and Stef's in the future. 

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13 hours ago, Daddydavek said:

Yes Will has a privileged life and knows how to work it, just as he explained it to Connie. His redeeming factors include he doesn't like bullies and doesn't suffer fools gladly. 

More please!

After reading this comment, it brought to mind the time which JP said those very words about Jeanine's parents. ( not suffering fools gladly).

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11 hours ago, pickuptoy said:

Great Chapter Mark! I have not always liked how Will handled things. But I think he is maturing a little faster now. And think he handled this ordeal very well. Having spoken to Stef gave him a lot of insight also. He is showing a little of Tonto, JP, Stef, and Dan coming out in him more every day. He is probably going to become a very shrewd businessman that his wealth may drawf his Dad's and Stef's in the future. 

I'm not sure Will wants to go into the business world.  With Brad, he had been groomed to join Stef's company, but Will hasn't really shown much interest in that, and they haven't pushed him in that direction.  As a third-generation (from the founding of Stef's Empire) person, he may be more interested in having a positive impact on the world.  He's got enough money.

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This is the Will I love. He's clever and thinks matters thorough, and he uses his money and connections for good.

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On 2/22/2021 at 5:23 AM, Canuk said:

Great summary/prediction, however you just know Mr Arbour will throw a curve ball in there some where!


Edited by methodwriter85
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